Pitch Movement and Spin Axis Data Suggest the Twins Should Acquire This Rocky
Image courtesy of © Joe Camporeale | 2020 Sep 26The Minnesota Twins’ offseason is moving at a snail’s pace and it turns out that the snail is in it’s waning years and crippled by various forms of arthritis.
The team’s only significant transaction to date has been the signing of relief pitcher Hansel Robles to a one-year, $2 million deal at the end of December, otherwise the Twins’ transaction page is littered with minor league deals.
Those in and around the team with working knowledge of how the Twins are approaching the offseason firmly believe that they will make at least one move of significance before Spring Training starts in approximately six weeks. Most of the rumors surrounding the Twins have them focused on obtaining a shortstop as well as various relief pitchers. However, one area where the team also figures to be exploring its options is the starting pitching market.
The Twins currently have three rotation spots locked up for the 2021 season in Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda. Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer will also undoubtedly see their fair share of starts and Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic are on the cusp of making their Major League debuts. But that still leaves plenty of room for the Twins to bring in at least one starting pitcher of consequence.
They have been linked to the likes of Jake Odorizzi — who is reportedly seeking a multiyear deal of at least $10 million per year guaranteed — and the recently signed Corey Kluber. Pitchers that fit this mold would primarily add to the starting rotation’s depth as they would clearly be the third or fourth best starter on the Twins’ roster without impacting its overall ceiling.
However, a fair amount of intriguing names remain on the open market — both via free agency and trades — that could not only make the starting unit deeper, but also more dangerous.
One way to determine which names the Twins may be wise to go after is by looking at the spin and movement of each individual’s pitches. This isn’t a new concept by any means, but for the uninitiated, the thought process goes something like this: more spin on the ball = more movement = more difficult to hit the pitch = more strikeouts = less runs allowed = more wins. That’s an over simplified explanation that doesn’t always convert to real life, but you get the picture.
There are a number of pitchers still available, so going over every single one would go beyond the scope of this article. That said, let’s discuss two names that may be of particular interest.
But before we do that and in order to set a comparison for how the pitchers on the market stack up, it would be prudent to take a look at the data of various pitches of the Twins’ best hurler.
(Here’s a key for interpreting the chart:
- Parameters were set so that each pitch had to be thrown at least 100 times during the 2020 season. This will be true for the two examples below, as well.
- The deeper the color the further away that value is from average.
- Positive values are above average, while negative values are below.
- All data was gathered via Baseball Savant.)
However, what may be interesting to note is that Maeda’s slider isn’t all that great either, at least on it’s own. What makes Maeda’s slider useful is the dominance of his changeup.
The chart and graphic above can be a little confusing, so I’ll try to succinctly summarize. Active spin percentage is the amount of the baseball’s spin that goes toward the pitch’s break and/or drop; the higher the percentage, the less wasted spin. The clocks represent the direction in which each pitch moves based on spin at the release of the pitch (left) versus when it reaches home (right).
For Maeda, this means that his slider breaks as expected — which is to say not much in any direction — whereas his changeup drops significantly based on what would be assumed when it leaves his hand. To put it simply: Maeda’s changeup is one of the best in the game due to its movement and spin.
Now that we have developed a baseline, let’s look at two of the Twins’ options on the market.
FREE AGENT OPTION
Much like Maeda, Arrieta boasts a changeup with great movement, but where he differentiates himself from the Twins’ ace is that he has another pitch that moves quite a bit: his sinker.
Arrieta is but a shell of his former Cy Young winning self, but he still may have some gas left in the tank. Part of his struggles over the last few seasons have been due to bad luck, but the main reason is a K% that has precipitously dropped from 27.1% there season he was named the National League’s best pitcher to 16.8% last season.
If there is a pitching coach that could help Arrieta right the ship — at least on a one-year deal — it’s Wes Johnson. Perhaps the key to raising his K% is a change in pitch mix?
German Marquez, Colorado Rockies
At first blush, Marquez’s data doesn’t look all that promising. His movement is below average for all of his pitches and they move in an expected manner. However, the data should be taken with a grain of salt as Marquez spent a good chunk of 2020 — and his career — pitching in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field.
The thin atmosphere in Denver makes playing at Coors the bane of every pitcher’s existence. The ball flies further when hit and moves less when thrown as the ball has less drag to fight. It’s simple physics!
It’s safe to say that Marquez’s stuff has suffered because of the Colorado air and his numbers back this assumption up.
Marquez is a mid- to top-end starter when he isn’t pitching a mile above sea level and rather poor when he is. Pitching a full season in the American Midwest would may result in Marquez fighting for an All-Star spot due in large part to improved stuff. Under the tutelage of Johnson, Marquez would be a contender for making a Maeda-esque jump.
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